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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology

The Rise of the Robo Notice


The Rise of the Robo Notice, illustration

Credit: MARSIL

Most internet professionals have some familiarity with the "notice and takedown" process created by the 1998 U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA). Notice and takedown was conceived to serve three purposes: it created a cheap and relatively fast process for resolving copyright claims against the users of online services (short of filing a lawsuit); it established steps online services could take to avoid liability as intermediaries in those disputes—the well-known DMCA "safe harbor"; and it provided some protection for free speech and fair use by users in the form of "counter notice" procedures.

The great virtue of the notice and takedown process for online services is its proceduralism. To take the most common example, if a service reliant on user-generated content follows the statutory procedures, acts on notices, and otherwise lacks specific knowledge of user infringement on its site (the complicated "red flag" knowledge standard), it can claim safe harbor protection in the event of a lawsuit. Services can make decisions about taking down material based on substantive review and their tolerance for risk. They may also adopt technologies or practices to supplement notice and takedown, though the law makes no such demands beyond a requirement for repeat infringer policies. The resulting balance has enabled a relatively broad scope for innovation in search and user-generated-content services. As one entrepreneur put it in our recent study of these issues, notice and takedown was "written into the DNA" of the Internet sector.


 

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